When my older brother Stan died in a automobile accident, I lost my best friend. He was twenty-six. Unwilling to accept the fact of his passing, I simply rejected the idea of it.
I had just turned twenty-one, old enough to know better, but as I’d walk down Bridgeport’s main streets, from one store to another, I’d look at the faces of the young men strolling past to see if one of them was Stan. I invented a variety of tales, more daydreams than anything else, that made looking for him plausible, in my mind, at least.
One tale stands out above the rest. Consumed by that first haze of grief, I imagined Stan as an intelligence officer who had to go undercover and disappear completely from his former life: Stan had been a counter intelligence officer in the army several years before. I took that supposed undercover job of his and created a story around a secret case he was working on, a case so classified not even his loved ones knew the fatal accident was bogus. It sounded crazy, of course, but I needed to find my brother, in some form, in some way.
And I did. But not among the people whose faces I scoured daily. Over time, that hopeless quest slipped away and was replaced by my memories of how wonderful Stan was. I no longer looked for his visible self and instead started to recall his inner being: his humorous personality, his kindnesses, and our love for each other. I continue to grieve for him but, now, when I need him, my brother is there.
With that understanding, I became the sole and grateful witness to Stan’s spontaneous appearances, the flashes of memory that spring up in my head without warning. For instance, I’ll suddenly remember my sixteen-year-old brother, a huge grin on his face, saying, “Granny called Daddy at the store again to tell him that we’re fighting.” At that, we’re thrown into a fit of giggles which ends the latest battle of the sibs. Stan and I can easily imagine our father, busy in his small hardware store, rolling his eyes heavenward as his mother-in-law asks – again – for help with the kinder.
Granny’s oldest child, our mother Edna, died at forty-two leaving behind her husband and two young children. Strong and willing in spirit but lacking an iron hand, Granny stepped into the breach. Stan and I were playful, loud, and, maybe, a little reckless. We were too much for her. But we loved Granny and tried hard to subdue our antics. That lasted for a short while, and made her happy – for a short while.
A companion memory quickly pops up and sparkles with the same childlike exuberance. This time, after some minor bickering with Stan, I start crying. Unable to deal with my tears and Granny’s worried exhortations to “Play nice, children,” my brother finds a way to end the fight. He picks me up, flings me over his shoulder, and runs wildly about our apartment. I stop crying and start laughing, one after the other.
Another brother image plays in my head like a short, well-done documentary. In this film-like episode, Stan is honorably discharged from the military after spending eighteen months in Germany. He arrives back home in Bridgeport, steps off a local bus, and walks toward our apartment building. I run to him. We wrap our arms around each other and hold on tight. Then, with both of us laughing, Stan twirls me around, sets me down, and holds me at arm’s length. He looks me over, his eyes opening wide with surprise. I had grown up since we last saw each other, an unexpected turn of events for my big brother. He left home, and I was his baby sister, an awkward teenager. He returned, and I was a young, self-assured adult.
Stan had matured as well, looking just as handsome but a little older and more filled out in body, and stronger, somehow. No other major changes for him, though.
We spend the rest of the evening and the early morning hours sitting on the cement curb that borders our building. And we talk, both of us trying to make up for lost time. Hurried anecdotes, constant interruptions, bursts of laughter, new viewpoints, and sudden, unexpected grins characterize a markedly disjointed conversation.
Had the time we spent apart loosened our sibling bonds? Maybe a little? No, not one bit. The night is perfect. Our relationship is undiminished. And the documentary flash fades.
Oh, I know. Flaws abound in all relationships. And, I confess, as sibs we argued and disappointed each other from time to time. I confess, too, that I’ve forgotten certain details of some events. I may have even fudged them a little – but not a lot.
Stan’s physical presence is long gone, but his spirit endures. And so, I remember how he routinely supported me, encouraged me, and shared in my joys and sorrows. Those memories are my brother’s lasting gifts to me and I keep them close to my heart. It’s the very best that we both can do.
Editor: Edwin C. Goldstein